2013 Tutu Fellow Catherine Constantinides asks deeper questions about everyday active citizenry and what it looks like at the level of the individual and the community in a South African context. She gave her TEDx Talk, which she called Active Citizenship 101, at TEDx Waterfall Drive in May 2020. Informed by her vast experience as a social activist on the African continent, as an international climate activist, and human rights defender, she challenges ideas about active citizenry and what it means to be agents of change. She begins her talk by saying the biggest mistake one can make is to do nothing because one can do only a little.
The talk was at a TEDx event and used the TED conference format but was independently organized by the local community.
Catherine is the Founder of the Miss Earth South Africa, the Lead SA Executive Director and co-founder of Generation Earth and has been honoured by the President of South Africa for her work in gaining recognition for the Saharawi, who have been oppressed by Morocco in an ongoing, illegal occupation of their homeland in Western Sahara.
Catherine says that active citizenship is needed to build a nation. It is needed to right the massive challenges society faces. Democracy, freedom, and the rule of law, she says, is not a given, but must be fought for and protected by active citizens every single day. To be an active citizen, the core question we must ask is 'who am I?' Do we get to know the names of our neighbours, or do we lock ourselves behind our walls? Locked away, she notes, our communities are no longer communities, but are fractured.
So to be an active citizen, we must ask different questions. How we answer those questions will determine how our country is built - or fails. Catherine points out that channels like social media are not as effective as getting to know our councillors and lodging complaints and engaging with them on service delivery. Too few people know who represent them and simply don't have constructive contact with their levers of government.
At core, people need to change their sense of 'us'. How to do so can be seen in her address below. (Note that in a few places, the audio quality is poor.)
Watch the full address: